Last night we ordained two men to the gospel ministry at the church I pastor in Enid, Oklahoma. The ordination council was composed of all men. The laying on of hands was conducted by men. The charge issued was given by a professor from Southern Seminary. It was a wonderful service, led by men. My church reflects the beliefs of most Southern Baptist churches regarding gender roles and the ordination of males only to gospel ministry. My personal theology and ministry practice in terms of church male leadership reflects the theology and practice of 95% of all Southern Baptist churches.
Today's post is a continuation of the series on women in ministry that I began posting two weeks ago. The series is authored by a graduate of Southwestern Theological Seminary, and is posted here, with permission, in order to show that it is possible for Bible-believing, conservative, evangelical scholars to be egalitarian. To call all egalitarians "Liberals" is as absurd as calling all complementarians "Fundamentalists." At some point we are going to need to learn to cooperate with people who disagree on gender roles within the church and home. Further, at some point Southern Baptists need to learn not to be afraid that cooperation with people who disagree on this issue will cause Christians to suddenly stop believing the Bible. Understanding conservatives interpret the infallible, inerrant, and sufficient Word of God differently on this issue should humble all of us. Read on:
Part 1: History and Confessions
Part 2: Priesthood of the Believer
Part 3: Spiritual Gifts
Part 4: Offices in the Church
Part 5: Ministries
Part 6: Objections to Women in Ministry Considered
"Husband of one wife"
But before we deal with the primary argument for the prohibition of the ordination of women, let us discuss a secondary argument. 1 Timothy 3:1 states that any man aspiring to the office of overseer must be “the husband of one wife.” For much of the church the question of ordination to ministry for women is settled by this restriction also found in Titus 1:6. To many this Pauline proof text seems sufficient to exclude all women, for traditionally a woman does not have a wife. But the matter is not so simple.
What is interesting concerning both the 1 Timothy and Titus passages is that, as previously mentioned, the qualifications for elder or overseer concerns matters of character. In context, the phrase “husband of one wife” would seem to refer not to gender but to personal ethics. Although most scholars believe that both Jews and Gentiles were basically monogamous by this time, a man could legally still have more than one wife. No evidence exists, however, that a woman could ever legally have more than one husband. The writer of 1 Timothy addressed men who could have more than one wife; perhaps some men of the early church did. The writer said that the leaders of the church would practice the “one man, one woman, faithful to death” ideal of God, regardless of the world’s laws. There would have been no need to spell out that the women deacons could have only one husband, because they were not legally free to have more than one.
Further, if ordination is to be restricted to “the husband of one wife,” Paul himself would seem to be excluded, for he seems to imply that he was without spouse when he wrote 1 Cor. 7:7; and he clearly preferred that all single persons remain single (vs. 25-38). Excluded by this test also would be John the Baptist, Jesus, and all unmarried persons. In 1 Timothy 5:9, “a widow is to be “the wife of one man.” Does this mean that a man can not be a widower? If we pursue the logic of some interpreters of verse 3:2 then Paul has commanded that a man must not be a widower.
Now some might argue that unmarried people cannot be elders. Jesus was Christ. Paul was Apostle. John the Baptist was a prophet. Peter was an Apostle and an elder and was married. Therefore, elders and pastors must be married. But let us pursue this logic to its absurd conclusion. In the parallel passage of Titus 1:6 we read an elder as one who is “the husband of one wife, having children who believe.” To follow the above logic, an elder must be married and must have children. Not just one child, the Bible says children (plural). And both of these children must believe. So a person cannot become an elder or pastor until both of his children arrive at the age that they can make a confessional statement. And if an elder’s/pastor’s wife becomes pregnant, he must resign because he will soon have a baby child who will not yet believe.
It is more likely that Titus 1:6 is rephrasing 1 Timothy 3:4 about an elder being one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity. If not, we must adopt pedo-baptism to align ourselves with the logical extension of the above interpretation. Furthermore, it is most likely, that when Paul speaks in both letters concerning an elder being a “husband of one wife” he is not restricting gender but restricting immoral behavior.
“To teach or exercise authority”
For the foundational Pauline statement relegating women to subordinate roles in the church, most complementarians turn to 1 Timothy 2:11-15. But Paul’s injunction against women’s teaching or exercising authority over men is an exegetical challenge. Many commentators, whether complemenatarian or egalitarian, note the occasional nature of the three Pastoral Epistles, including 1 Timothy. Paul does not intend to “establish a blueprint for church structure,” but to deal with the circumstances that the church faced in Ephesus. His advice concerning women was not triggered by questions arising in our day, but by the conduct in worship assemblies of the first-century church.
What is unusual about 1 Timothy is the amount of space devoted specifically to women. This includes appropriate dress for women who lead in worship (1 Tim 2:9-10), behavior befitting women who teach (1 Tim 2:12-15), qualifications for women deacons (1 Tim 3:11), suitable pastoral relations with women (1 Tim 5:12), qualifications for women elders (1 Tim 5:9-10), correction of young widows (1 Tim 5:3-8, 16). In no other New Testament letter do women figure so prominently.
Quiet – 1 Corinthians 14
Here is the area of great controversy: "What part can a woman play in a church service, in its leading, its speaking, and its teaching?" According some translations, women should be "silent" in church. That word occurs twice in this passage: that a woman should "learn in silence" (Vs. 11), and, she is to "keep silent" (Vs. 12). Obviously it is wrong to interpret this verse to mean that women should not speak. The reason is because the same word that is translated "silent" here occurs also in adjectival form in Verse 2 of this same chapter. There we read that we are to pray for "kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life." The word "peaceable" is the same word which is translated "silent" here. But surely Verse 2 does not mean that we must lead lives of absolute silence. That is unless we are to be monks and takes vows of silence. It clearly means that we are to live a tranquil life, i.e., without a great deal of hassling and disturbance, etc., but a "peaceable" life. That is a good translation for this word, which, if carried over here to this section we are studying, changes the thought entirely. Furthermore, if you look at Second Thessalonians 3:12, the apostle uses this same word again. He says of certain persons who were busybodies, "Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness." There is the same word which is translated silent here. Paul is not telling people to work without speaking but to be peaceful about it, without a lot of public notice. So when we read this translation in that sense, then all that Paul is saying is, "Let a woman learn in a 'peaceful' way; she is to keep herself 'peaceful' and 'peaceable.'"
Some who argue for a woman’s “silence” in church will point to Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 14:34: “As in all the churches of the saints, let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.” The context (vs. 35) makes it clear that the silence here stands in contrast to “asking questions,” not to preaching, teaching, or prophesying. That being so, there is not tension between this passage and the clear reference in chapter 11 to the fact that women may prophecy. In chapter 14, we get a glimpse of the worship in the early church. The members have been so caught up in enthusiasm that Paul must remind them that God is God of order rather than of confusion and that all things must be done decently and in suitable order. The first concern is that of the need to convey meaning in worship. While tongues are frequently an accompaniment of ecstatic devotion, communication through prophecy is more necessary. The word that is used in the prohibition for women is laleo, a term used by Aristophanes for the frivolous chatter of women. Differentiation is made in the text between nonintelligible speech, frequently designated by the verb laleo, and communication that conveys meaning to its hearers (lego). Paul places a far higher valuation on meaningful speech than on glossalalia, and there is an insistence that all may be edified. Only one person may speak at a time, and others must be allowed to take their turn. This contrasts with many of the mystery cults in which there was a jangling of musical instruments along with confused outcries, a phenomenon known as clamor. The worship of Cybele and Dionysus required the simultaneous use of diverse and unstructured sounds. In the orgies, women in particular were swept along into an altered state of consciousness. Dionysus was known as “the lord of the loud cry, the mad exciter of women.” (Maenads) Their abandoned state of mind led to raving and uncontrolled actions, as well as to ceremonial cries known as ululation. In this vein, Paul asks whether observers might not consider the Corinthian congregation mad – probably a reference to ritual madness of these cults rather than to insanity. In response Paul asks for a dignified and suitable approach to worship. A person who speaks in tongues must be silent if there is no interpreter; a person who is prophesying must desist if another if another wishes a turn. The third injunction to silence is directed to women. They are instructed to silence in exactly the same way as the one who has no interpreter and the one who must yield a turn prophesying to another. All are given the right to prophesy, so that it does not seem to be a prohibition against contributing a message of spiritual significance to the service of the worship. Rather, it is a prohibition against a disruption. This is the most widely held view among egalitarians. This problem in the Corinthian church focuses on certain women who were disrupting the worship services by making noise and or asking many questions. This position seems logical. If this position applies to all women in all places and times and not just certain married women in the Corinthian church how does a woman ask her husband if that husband is an unbeliever? For that matter, how does an unmarried woman ask her husband? Does this then mean that this passage has no bearing on women today? Certainly not! Women can speak in church but at the appropriate time. If this was the underlying problem Paul addressed, then the egalitarian interpretation follows. As Witherington declares,
“I conclude that a creation order or family order problem was not at issue in this passage but rather a church order problem caused by some women in the congregation. Paul corrects the abuse not by banning women from ever speaking in worship, but by silencing their particular abuse of speech and redirecting their questions to another time and place. Paul does wish the women to learn the answers to their questions. This passage in no way contradicts 1 Cor11:5, nor any other passage which suggests that women can teach, preach, pray, or prophecy in or outside the churches.”
As a response to a local problem, Paul’s injunction may have implications for similar situations today. But we cannot appeal to this text as providing the foundation for prohibiting women in ministry. Howard correctly concludes, “Sadly, what was a particular and local admonition in respect of a particular and local situation has become consistently interpreted by many sections of the Church as a general ban and thus the women members of the congregation have been denied their Christian rights.”
“I do not allow”
Important in this context is the grammatical shift between the command, “Let a woman learn” and Paul’s declarative statement “I permit no woman to teach.” On the basis of his choice of the present active indicative (epitrebo) rather than the imperative, egalitarians conclude that Paul is not voicing a timeless command, but a temporary directive applicable to a specific situation: “I am not presently allowing.”
This interpretation seems strenuous at best. Nevertheless, Liefield asks the question:
“Why does Paul use the indicative form rather than the making it a command by using the imperative? There can be little doubt that the reason he is telling Timothy what he does not permit is so that Timothy will follow the same practice. But read from the viewpoint of later generations, how significant is it that Paul does not issue a command such as, ‘Do not permit women to teach’ or ‘Women must not teach of have authority?’ Theologically it may be significant to observe that the Holy Spirit could have led Paul to use an imperative construction that might be interpreted as binding the church to follow that practice for all time, but instead led Paul to use a construction that describes his practice without making it permanently binding.”
Interestingly, Paul uses the present active indicative in 1 Cor. 7:7. In this verse, the apostle wills that all men were as he: unmarried.
As we have already seen, this is not an absolute prohibition against teaching. Paul does not say, "I permit no woman to teach, anywhere, anytime, to anyone, period!", although this passage has been taken to mean that. It is clear from other passages in the New Testament that women did teach. In fact, in his letter to Titus, Paul tells the elderesses to teach younger women how to love their husbands and rule their children, etc. So women were expected to teach. Also, as has been mentioned, there are instances in Scripture where women taught men.
It would appear that the heart of the entire women’s ordination debate centers upon one verse or, more precisely, one verb. In 1 Timothy 2:12 we read: “But I do not allow a woman to teach of exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” (NAS) The NIV reads “to have authority.” The NKJ reads: “to have authority.” The Scofield Reference Bible reads: “to usurp authority.” The Dios Llega Hombre reads: “ni tampoco dominar.” These are various translations of the Greek word authenteo, the word at the center of the present controversy. This word appears only here in the Bible and rarely appears in the secular Greek literature of the time. It has been variously translated as: “one who with his own hands kills another or himself”, “one who acts on his own authority, autocratic”, “an absolute master”, “to govern, exercise dominion over one.” What is significant about this verse is that Paul does not use his regular word for authority, exousiazo, “to exercise authority”, “to have power or authority over”, “to be master of any one”, “to brought under power of another”(1 Cor. 6:12, 1 Cor. 7:4). One would assume that if Paul was intending to speak of regular authority he would have used his familiar term. While exousia is used 28 times by Paul it is not used in either Timothy epistles but does appear in Titus 3:1. Interestingly, in 1 Timothy 2:2, he uses huperoche for kings who are in authority. Among many egalitarians it is believed that authenteo holds a negative connotation. Grenze writes:
“The fact that Paul uses an unusual term generally carried negative connotations, rather than the more prevalent neutral verbs, should predispose us to anticipate a negative meaning.”
With this in mind, Spencer offers a plausible summary of the intent of these verses 11-12:
“Women are to be calm and to have restraint and respect and affirm their teachers rather than to engage in an autocratic authority which destroys its subjects. Paul here is not prohibiting women from preaching nor praying nor having an edifying authority nor pasturing. He is simply prohibiting them from teaching and using their authority in a destructive way.”
Catherine Kroeger makes a strong case for translating authentein (written by Paul in verse 12 as an infinitive) as “to involve someone in soliciting sexual liaisons” rather than as “to usurp authority, domineer, or exercise authority over.” Kroeger builds her case from uses of authentein in Greek literature from the period preceding the New Testament. The solicitation of sexual favors was apparently a major problem within the early church. Both the churches at Pergamum and Thyatyra were condemned for teaching sexual immorality (2 Rev. 2:14, 18). Kroeger finds evidence for sexually immoral behavior among various religious groups in the Wisdom of Solomon, where “cursed children” are mentioned along with authentein. These “cursed children” are presumed to be the offspring of the immoral liaisons. Clement of Alexandria complained about Christian groups who had turned the communion service into a sex orgy, and he calls people who participated in this form of religion authentai. Throughout the Greco-Roman world, it seems there were groups – some of them calling themselves Christian - which combined worship, teaching and sexual immorality. Related to these various cults and misguided Christian groups were the heresies which posited that women possessed superior intellectual and spiritual knowledge and priority in creation. If Paul is indeed responding to these “female” heresies, then his statements about creation make a great deal of sense.
Whether Kroeger is correct in her analysis we currently have no evidence to decide conclusively. Regardless of how we translate authenteo, we are obviously not dealing with the common idea of exousia as we understand “authority” in the rest of Scripture. Paul had exousia or one of its cognates to use but he chose not to employ it.
But we need not arrive conclusively at the meaning of authenteo in order to successfully refute the argument by complementarians that women cannot be ordained because they are not to have authority over a man. Let us proceed under the presumption of most complementarian arguments that authenteo and exousia are virtually synonymous.
The main problem that has surrounded this debate on the ordination of women is the presumption that a senior pastor has authority over others. Furthermore, a serious problem has existed in the church for two millennia in that Christians have presumed themselves as having authority over other Christians. This idea is foreign to the teachings of Peter and Paul and is soundly rejected by Jesus. In the Church, no one is to have authority over another.
In Luke 22, during the Last Supper, before Jesus is to be crucified, the disciples are arguing over who is the greatest. In verses 25-27 Jesus says, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those who exercise authority (exousiazo) over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? But I am among you as one who serves.” In the parallel passage in John 13, Jesus then began to wash the feet of His disciples. What this demonstrates is that we are not to have authority over other believers. Specifically, leaders/elders/pastors are not to have authority over the “laity.” This is a radical concept that brings the priesthood of the believer into new light. Jesus is the only one who has authority over His body of the church. Jesus is the only one who has authority over the individual believer. He put it clearly in Matthew 23:8 (RSV): "One is your Master, and all you are brethren."
Paul is in complete agreement with Jesus, of course. Never, in any of the epistles, does Paul, an Apostle, authorize a leader’s authority over another believer. Paul’s Apostleship authority is only granted to him directly from Jesus (1 Cor. 9:1-5, 7:25) Never does Paul say that a man has authority over women. In 1 Cor 7:4 Paul writes, “The wife does not exercise authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” The “likewise” in v. 3 is important. Here is the recognition that a wife has the same conjugal right and authority upon a husband as does the husband upon the wife. Each spouse has a certain “authority” over the other’s body (v. 4). The authority and power that Jesus demonstrates radically differs from the understanding prevalent in our world.
It may be argued that a preacher in the pulpit has personal authority, but this is not taught in Scripture (again, apart from apostolic authority). The authority is in the Word itself, not in the individual teaching it. What “authority” does a pastor have over his congregation? Can the pastor forbid them to leave in the middle of the service? Can he or she insist they believe or act on what the pastor says? Can the pastor forbid them to take part in a discussion? Can the pastor insist that his or her teaching is “authoritative” over that of others who also believe and teach the Bible? A pastor who did any of these things would soon be without a congregation. This is true in any Protestant denomination but more so in Baptist life where the “authority” rests within the congregation. In cases of church discipline church leaders usually recommend action which must be carried out by the church body. The work of elders/pastors, deacons and other church leaders is largely in the formulation of policies which must ultimately be accepted by the congregation. Actually, to be sure that no woman would hold authority over a man in the church, women would have to be denied the right to vote in churches.
Jesus said that disciples are to be servants of one another and the greatest is the one who is servant of all. By these words Jesus indicates that an entirely different system of government than that employed by the world should prevail among Christians.
Throughout twenty centuries the church has virtually ignored these words. It is clear from the Scriptures that the apostles were concerned about the danger of developing ecclesiastical bosses. In Second Corinthians 1:24a (RSV), Paul reminds the Corinthians concerning his own apostolic authority: "Not that we lord it over your faith; we work with you for your joy, ..." In the same letter he describes, with apparent disapproval, how the Corinthians reacted to certain leaders among themselves: "For you bear it if a man makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face," (2 Cor 11:20 RSV). Peter, too, is careful to warn the elders (and he includes himself among them) not to govern by being "domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock," (1 Pet 5:3 RSV). And John speaks strongly against Diotrephes "who likes to put himself first, and takes it on himself to put some out of the church," (cf, 3 Jn 1:9-10). These first-century examples of church bosses indicate how easily churches then, as today, ignored the words of Jesus, "it shall not be so among you.”
Is a woman to have authority over a man? No. Is a man to have authority over a woman? No. Is a pastor/elder to have authority over another believer? No. Is a believer to have authority over another believer? Again, no. Therefore, can a woman be ordained as pastor? Yes.